Over the years I’ve been involved with a variety of projects for Joe Fields’ various labels. Joe has been in the business for many a decade, surviving where others have fallen (including yours truly!). I attribute that success to many things, including his innate honesty, a trait sorely lacking in the business part of the music business. He may be cheap*, but he can be trusted to do whatever he has said he’d do, including payment… eventually. Another attribute is that he really likes the music part of the music business, as well as most of the people involved. A joy to work for, I’d say, with both his heart and head (and wallet) in the right place. Noty too many like that left in this world.
What Joe likes most is jazz, generally bebop and a bit beyond, especially organ combos – the sort of music that Black folks were listening to when he started out in the business, I’d guess. Jazz is the Black music on which I cut my teeth (O&S # 21, 22) as well, so we had something in common musically. There were a number of albums that came out on Muse Records in which I had some input, and Cleanhead Vinson was a part of some of those. The first was an LP called “The Clean Machine” that Bob Porter produced out in LA. Included on the date was Lloyd Glenn, as well as drummer Bruno Carr (once of the Ray Charles band). It was a mixed album, one that focused more on Eddie’s alto playing (Porter being NYC’s foremost sax maniac), so less than half of the cuts had vocals on them. It was a strong, solid small band date, the kind that I like.
I got involved in this particular project almost by accident: being in the right spot at the right time with the right equipment. Bob and I were attending the annual meeting of NAIRD (now known as AFIM), an organization of independent record labels and distributors (O&S # 22, 23), in San Francisco. We got talking, as one does at that sort of gathering, about upcoming projects. He told me of the session in LA with Cleanhead and I suggested that I go along and take photographs at the date. Bob thought that it would be OK, so I got myself to town off my own bat and mooched off of Darryl and Linda Stolper (a continuing habit of mine! Thanks, guys.). Also in LA was Maurice Reedus-el (O&S # 40), the tenor on the two Lockwood albums (O&S # 39, 40) that I produced for my own label, Trix Records (O&S # 37, 54, 55). (Sadly, there is still an un-released LP by Maurice… I feel badly about that. I ran out of time/money for my label about that time and Joe never got around to it in his issuing of the Trix material on CD… maybe 32 Jazz will do so?)
At any rate, I went to the recording session, a smoothly run one with such professionals on board. Did some quick interviews and took a bunch of photos on-the-spot while rehearsals took place. That included some in color, not my preferred medium or forte, but requested, so I used color print film for the first time. I was also taken on to do the liner notes, a job that I looked forward to with great anticipation, a job to take me away from my “expected” SE area of expertise. With the title of “The Clean Machine”, my little mind went to work on a concept for the cover photo and art-work. Looking through the telephone book, I found a Laundromat with that name that seemed like a good idea. Not in one of the “good” areas, though.
This is where Reedus came into play: I needed wheels and he wanted to meet Cleanhead, so it worked to both our benefits! He picked me up at Darryl’s and drove me to Vinson’s place where I put forth my idea. Eddie thought it was workable, so off we went… but the Laundromat had disappeared since the ’phone book! Maurice drove us around Watts and other parts of Southwest Los Angeles until I spotted a defunct car wash. So I had Eddie stand with his horn in front of the place’s sign with the car wash in the background.
OK, my idea was this. Air-brush out the signage and drop in type with the album title and the artist’s name… et, voila! Instant classic!! Unfortunately, Joe didn’t go for that and I didn’t really have a “Plan B”. Joe felt that since there was a relatively current hit called “Car Wash” (by Rose Royce, a Black “Archies” sort of studio-only group), there might have been some product confusion. I doubt that that would have been a problem, but what do I know. My first shot (no pun intended) at “outside” art direction shot down by the Top 40! So that’s why the cover photo is one of the color photos from the recording studio – the film was seriously “pushed” so that’s why there’s a near-Seurat-like pointilistic appearance to the front cover. But Maurice and Eddie were wonderful that day putting up with my odd suggestions.
There was a later connection to Cleanhead when I was asked by Joe to come to Beverley, MA where he was doing some location recordings at Sandy’s, a local New England club of note (no pun intended). So I stayed with my sister, Ann, who lived in that town and went to the club on a succession of rainy nights to photograph not only Eddie Vinson, but Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate… a meeting of old Texas buddies. Alan Dawson was the drummer and Jaki Byard the pianist, in my aging memory serves me correctly (and at my age it often doesn’t) – cannot remember the bassist, though. Joe got enough material on tape for six albums, two “lead” by each horn player. I wrote the notes for the first three; I cannot remember if the other three were issued. Other projects to come with Joe had more of a blues focus than these and came mostly from Savoy vault materials, but I sure had a good time and heard some great music. More next time.
*I don’t mean that in a negative sense, but as a good way to not loose money, and maybe make some! Like I say, Joe is honest.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM
Joe’s interest in good jazz continues today, with High Note Records, and Avant Records – son, Barney, seems the man in charge these days. He had another blues label after mine, Fedora Records, but that has gone WAY back on the back burner with sales very poor.